Digital media has come a long way in recent years and has become an integral part of our daily lives. In fact, a few years back, the digital media boom had caused a collective panic over the future of the print industry. With the digital revolution, readers migrated to new digital devices such as audio books and e-books. Print sales dwindled, bookstores fell on hard times, and publishers and authors feared that the cheaper e-books would eat into their business.
But despite the narrative that print is ‘on its way out’, new surveys show that when it comes to both magazines and books, print is ‘very much alive’. In some cases, digital is actually taking a backseat, not just in terms of website development, but also for social media platforms that have been widely demonized in the press for their addictive and potentially dangerous impact on users.
Additionally, since paper has a certain appeal and nostalgia that digital media cannot replicate – right from the joys of smelling a new book to the tactile sensation of flipping through its pages – majority of the people still enjoy reading physical books, magazines, and newspapers.
Kuwait’s media production house Alrai Media Group conducted an opinion poll among a coterie of prominent writers, including contemporary authors, to ascertain whether print still prevails over digital.
Writer Abdul Wahab Al-Sayed Al-Rifai sees a greater demand in printed books than in the past. “I vividly remember my first participation in a book fair in 1999, and compared to the current book fairs in terms of the volumes exhibited, I can safely say that the demand for books has increased fourfold.” Al-Rifai feels that even with the impact of digitalization in our everyday lives, “the book still maintains its value, and perhaps its value today has gone even higher. Many publishing houses had to close down their e-book sections due to poor demand.”
He recounts how TIME magazine had, in 2009, announced that the digital version of their magazine was selling more than the print version, but ironically went on to reverse the statement a couple of years later, highlighting the return of the print magazine to the forefront and how it had outperformed the electronic version. “All that matters to a writer is that his work should be read, whether in printed or digital format,” adds Al-Rifai.
TV & film writer, novelist, and 3D artist Haitham Boodai feels that the demand for physical books at local and Arab book fairs has become an unprecedented social and cultural phenomenon, as the spread of young adult publishers have broken the monopoly of traditional publishing houses. “The youth have increased the spread of books, seen at its peak today, providing opportunities for young authors to write novels and other creative works of knowledge.”
Boodai says that publishing has become vibrant. Authors are celebrated and this could usher in better content in quality and quantity during the next ten years.
Joining the literary bandwagon is media figure Sahar Bin Ali who stresses that, “there is still demand for reading books, because it is up to the reader’s taste and choice, like there are readers who prefer the touch and feel of paper when reading a book or writing down notes. There are also many books of which digital copies are unavailable.”
Author and filmmaker Anwar Al-Otaibi believes that the digital revolution has impacted positively in influencing the habit of reading, even among those who are not avid readers, to rush towards the nearest bookstore or library to grab or browse through the titles of their favourite author. “E-books may not be available everytime, especially since glitches in technology cannot be ruled out. As for myself, I prefer to trust tangible things. I always make it a point to write my copy on paper before typing it on a computer and transferring the file to the publishing house.”
“I am certain that for those who naturally love reading, the smell of paper is like an addiction, and touching and browsing brings pleasure and reassurance. For them, printed books are a mental investment and a spiritual refuge,” adds Al-Otaibi.
Writer Mishal Hamad concurs that people still prefer to read printed books as a way to “escape from the digital reality to a world far from the noise of society.” Hamad feels that a true writer pens down words as a passion and not for commercial gains. “From my personal point of view, a true writer is not affected by the ups and downs of circulation, but is merely translating their feelings onto paper as a source of freedom.”
Prolific author and psychologist Saad Al-Rifai, however, contradicts with his peers. “What I have noticed is that people are not interested in reading physical books anymore, especially the young generation who prefer listening to audio books rather than reading them in printed form.” He explains that this has nothing to do with the ‘end of books’, but rather is a trend among the youth to acquire instant information. “Audio books deliver information instantaneously, especially since a person can listen to what he wants at any given time or place of convenience.”